It’s President’s Day today, but we’re going beyond the usual landmarks you cover on a class trip to Washington, D.C. Instead, let’s leave behind the capital and look at some other spots across the country where you can hone your presidential knowledge and celebrate U.S. leaders from George Washington to Barack Obama.
PRESIDENT’S PARK – WILLIAMSBURG, VIRGINIA
If you’re near Williamsburg, check out President’s Park, designed to help visitors learn about the history of the country through the lives of the presidents.
The 10-acre complex features 18-foot-high busts of all 42 presidents, include George W. Bush, which were sculpted by internationally known artist David Adickes. Plates in front of each statue contain detailed biographical and historical information on each president, including highlights of their terms in office.
Interspersed throughout the grounds are displays marking the 14 defining moments in American history, which include such events as the Constitutional Convention, the Louisiana Purchase, and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
There is also a small museum which contains exhibits featuring the First Ladies’ gowns and presidential pets, among other items.
Visitors can either take a self-guided tour, or choose from among six guided tours. Each tour has a distinct theme, covering topics such as “The Constitution and The Bill of Rights” and “Human Rights, Civil Rights, and Slavery.”
PRESIDENT’S HALL OF FAME – CLERMONT, FLORIDA
It’s no surprise that this theme-park-like museum is located just outside the theme park capital of America—Orlando, Florida. Though a little kooky, The Presidents Hall of Fame offers a welcome diversion for families overloaded on everything Disney.
Founded as the House of Presidents Wax Museum in 1960, it was expanded in 1990 and now includes miniature replicas of the White House, the Oval Office, and other non-presidential Americana.
Some of the more, um, unconventional offerings include an animatronic likeness of Abraham Lincoln and wax replicas of George W. and Laura Bush, John and Jackie Kennedy, and George Washington.
The miniature replicas were painstakingly hand-carved by miniature artists John and Jan Zweifel, and go on tour around the country from time to time. The model of the White House, which took years to build, was famously attacked by a group of anti-American terrorists many years ago while on tour in Holland. Though it was significantly damaged, the model has since been repaired and now stands as the centerpiece of the Hall of Fame.
TRUMAN LIBRARY – INDEPENDENCE, MISSOURI
The Truman Library in the Kansas City suburb of Independence, Missouri, has a large collection of presidential memorabilia, with 15 million pages of documents and 35,000 artifacts associated with the life of President Harry S. Truman. This library is notable for its community events which often take place in the politically important swing state of Missouri. The library sponsors or co-sponsors a large number of forums, panel discussions and even trivia contests for high school students.
KENNEDY LIBRARY – BOSTON, MA
Designed by renowned architect I.M. Pei and not completed until 1979, the Kennedy library is probably the most architecturally innovative of the presidential libraries. Kennedy had hoped his library would be “a complete record of a presidential era” and an important resource for scholars.
One of the oddest and most interesting artifacts from Kennedy’s life is also located here—the coconut inscribed with a rescue message by Kennedy as he waited on a deserted island along with the crew of his PT-109 boat.
REAGAN LIBRARY – SIMI VALLEY, CA
One of the newer presidential libraries, Reagan’s library received an extensive makeover in 2005 that made it the biggest in terms of physical size. The most distinctive feature in President Reagan’s library may be the display of Air Force One, which served a half-dozen heads of state from the 1970s through the 1990s. Also on display is Marine One (the presidential helicopter) as well as a presidential motorcade. History enthusiasts will also appreciate the upcoming display of George Washington’s original copy of the Acts of Congress, including the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
By Karen Elowitt and Matthew Calcara for PeterGreenberg.com.